The five minute CIO: John Shaw

9 Mar 2012

John Shaw, CIO and head of information services, Mainstream Renewable Power

Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on, where we learn the thoughts of Ireland’s IT leaders on tech trends and strategy. John Shaw is CIO and head of information services at Mainstream Renewable Power, a business-to-business energy provider founded in 2008 by Dr Eddie O’Connor.

Mainstream Renewable Power develops, builds and operates wind and solar thermal plants, with a portfolio of more than 14,000MW. Its global headquarters are in Dublin and it has offices in Chicago, Toronto, Santa Monica, Santiago, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Beijing, Berlin, Glasgow and London.

How big is Mainstream RP now: how many users across how many sites, and are you still expanding?

We have 150 employees and a further 450 partners avail of our IS services. Mainstream continues to expand and has 11 offices in eight countries right across the globe.

What are the major applications the company uses?

We have standardised on Microsoft and we extensively use Dynamics AX, Dynamics CRM and SharePoint. Additional specialist software is provided by vendors who have fully adopted Microsoft’s .NET architecture such as ESRI (GIS software company).

How would you describe your own approach to IT?

We focus on adding business value and achieve this by demonstrating a high level of service with a clear focus on cost.

Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?

The CIO must speak the language of business while retaining a strong understanding of emerging technology trends.

Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year?

About the same but with an expansion of the services delivered. There is a shift in the spend mix with a greater proportion devoted to innovation.

Can you say what percentage of your IT budget you’re setting aside for this and what kinds of projects fall into the ‘innovation’ bracket?

We spend about 10pc of our budget on innovation. A good example is cloud, where we are piloting public cloud services and the accompanying processes.

What is your main IT project for this year?

A move to Microsoft cloud.

What IT initiative are you most proud of?

Standardising on Microsoft’s Smart Energy Reference Architecture. This delivers stable, scalable, secure services on our private cloud infrastructure and we use 31 Microsoft products in total.

Mainstream had to ramp up very quickly from a standing start in 2008: what challenges did that present from an IT perspective and how did you overcome them?

We had to develop strategic partnerships fast with organisations that understand agility. DSS and Eircom rose to the challenge and gave us the solutions we needed at the right price, all with a Microsoft technology backdrop.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

Cloud promises to make a big difference for us. Our current services are delivered via a secure private cloud and we are now ready to launch into the public cloud with Microsoft.

Given the global nature of your business, is cloud computing potentially useful, a game changer or simply hype?

We’re already doing it.

As CIO, is the ‘Bring Your Own Device to work’ trend a logistical nightmare or one to be embraced?

We’ve embraced it fully. The IT experience at work should match or excel the IT experience at home. This applies to smartphones, tablets and laptops, yet it must also apply to intuitive software.

You’re on record as preferring single suppliers where possible over managing a diverse range of tech vendors. Has your view changed or do you stand by it?

A strategic partnership is a long-term commitment by both parties and represents an investment in time. I am more convinced than ever that strategic partnerships based on candour, clarity and aligned incentives work best. We couldn’t succeed without this core philosophy at Mainstream.

Do you prefer outsource or in-house IT, or a mix of both?

The leadership and accountability always rests with Mainstream but the experts need to be empowered to do their jobs. So outsourcing needs to align tightly with a strategic partnership approach.

Do you have a preference for using indigenous IT service companies and consultants, or do you opt for the multinational names?

The core technology at Mainstream is built on Microsoft and Intel and we’ve formed strategic partnerships at the highest level in both. Locally, we deal with DSS and Eircom to deliver the services, secure in the knowledge that all four are tightly aligned.

Have you any plans to add to your own skills this year and if so, in what area?

Every day I learn. Helping Mainstream achieve its ambitious goals is my priority and the source of my learning.

How do you stay on top of developments in IT that could help your organisation, and how much time do you spend on this?

I participate actively with the Innovation Value Institute, an organisation founded by Intel and BCG with more than 50 members, including Mainstream, E&Y and Microsoft. I’m also on Gartner’s Executive programme to gain from their incredible insight.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic